Monday, January 14, 2008

When It’s Too Hard To Forgive and Forget

The man responsible for the collapse of HIH has been released from prison after three years. Many feel that Mr. Williams got off lightly, and what adds insult to injury is the knowledge that he will return to a life of comfort. The many people who depended on the services of his company continue to struggle with the impact this disaster has had on their lives.

Mr. Williams pled guilty to misleading the market. He has subsequently apologized to victims, saying upon release, “The last thing that I wanted ... was for HIH to fail. For people who have been hurt and for people who have suffered financial loss, I am very sorry”. And I expect that he is sorry. Logically, he would never have wanted the company to fail. He would never have wanted the gravy train to stop. He would never have wanted to go to jail. Clearly, he didn’t wreck the company on purpose.

That doesn’t let him off the hook, however. Ray Williams’ crime stemmed from nothing more than pure greed. While greed is noted as one of the seven deadly sins, the problem isn’t so much the greed itself, but the vulnerability to lapses in judgement that it inspires. And that’s the lesson for all corporate chiefs. When the question becomes “How can we make more money?” instead of “How can we run the best and most successful business?” a line is crossed which changes the priorities of the enterprise and those who run it. It’s the beginning of a slippery slope which leads to the sort of disaster witnessed here, and in similar cases such as One-Tel.

The victims of the collapse of HIH have every right to despise Ray Williams. But it won’t undo what has been done.

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